Friday, December 9, 2022

Section 8 housing can be difficult to find in James City County — but does it push people out?

Burnt Ordinary Apartments is one complex that accepts Section 8 housing choice vouchers. (WYDaily/Courtesy Google Maps)
Burnt Ordinary Apartments is one complex that accepts Section 8 housing choice vouchers. (WYDaily/Courtesy Google Maps)

Every year, hundreds of people in the Historic Triangle use Section 8 vouchers — also called housing choice vouchers — to secure housing they otherwise would not be able to afford.

The waiting list is comprised of more than 500 people, and it can take years to receive a voucher. Once a person receives a voucher, the clock starts to tick: they only have 60 days to find housing.

Section 8 housing ranges from private landlords to apartment complexes such as Burnt Ordinary Apartments, but county Social Services still says finding a landlord that accepts housing choice vouchers can still be a tall task.

Despite the challenge, many of James City County’s voucher recipients are able to secure housing in the area without having to leave. May 2019 data from James City County Social Services shows there are 429 people who live in units using housing choice vouchers. 

And, just in case Section 8 housing is scarce, the renters can “port” out of the area: take their housing voucher, and find Section 8 housing elsewhere.

“It’s difficult in some cases,” County Housing Manager Keith Denny said. “But every voucher in portable. Tenants can live wherever … They can come here from wherever.”

For those looking for Section 8 housing, the clock is always ticking. 

Denny said a housing choice voucher recipient has 60 days to secure housing after receiving the voucher. They can also get a 30-day extension if they prove they are diligently looking for a rental.

“If they’re actively searching, that’s the only reason we can give them an extension,” Denny said.

The added flexibility of having a housing choice voucher — keyword: choice — means the tenant can go anywhere to find housing through the federal Section 8 program, including other counties and states, Denny said.

It’s rare for a tenant to have their voucher expire before finding housing. On average, only two county-issued vouchers expire on average each year before the recipient can find housing. Only about five tenants on average leave James City County each year to use their housing voucher elsewhere, Denny said. 

Meanwhile, there are about 25 voucher holders at any time that come in from another locality or state.

RELATED STORY: Hundreds of people receive Section 8 vouchers in James City, York. Hundreds more have been waiting for years

Availability

Denny said voucher recipients at the beginning of their search are given a list of landlords, apartments and mobile home parks in the county that accept the vouchers. 

“We give them that list immediately and say here’s a place to start,” Denny said. 

James City County Social Services Director Rebecca Vinroot wrote in an email the availability of landlords does impact where voucher recipients can live.  

“We have been doing a lot of recruitment but there are still many misperceptions about the recipients – and the program – that I feel dissuade prospective landlords, unfortunately,” Vinroot wrote in an email. 

In James City County, there are 49 landlords that accept housing choice vouchers: 28 from apartment complexes and 21 who are private landlords, Vinroot told WYDaily in May

When a landlord comes on board, the county will put their information and photos of the unit into the list for prospective tenants to review.

Denny said James City County hosts a landlord event each spring to inform landlords about tenant resources and housing assistance programs such as Section 8. Part of the event aims to recruit landlords, while the other part informs landlords of tools they can give struggling tenants.

“We encourage landlords to participate and recognize they’re a part of the community,” Denny said. “As a landlord, you’re the first one that’s going to know they’re struggling. You can give them brochures … information, the phone number to the crisis hotline.”

Tenant resources

There are also other workshops that focus more on Section 8 recipients themselves.

Those workshops include: 

  • Know Your Rights as a Renter – Aug. 22 at  6 p.m. at JCC Human Services Center, 5349 Olde Towne Road.
  • Budgeting for the Holidays – Sept. 17 (Time and location to be announced).
  • How to be a Successful Renter – Oct. 16 (Time and location to be announced).
  • Resume Writing for Success – Nov. 19 (Time and location to be announced).
  • Avoiding Predatory Lending – Dec. 5, (Time and location to be announced).

Denny said James City County has increased the “payment standard,” or amount of money it contributes to rent, from around 90 percent of the fair market rent rate to about 95 percent.

“What we do, because it’s difficult for folks to find housing in James City County they can afford … we’ve increased that standard,” Denny said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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